Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Tennis? Anyone? Please?

How does it feel to be on your own, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone?

It feels like me trying to play tennis in Baltimore, City of Ravens, City of Orioles, City of...Round Robins? I love tennis, but seemingly can't find anyone to play with in Charm City. In fact, I was so deperate to play with anybody on Planet Earth, that I went to an open Round Robin event sponsored by Baltimore Tennis Patrons, the Mid-Atlantic affiliate of the United States tennis Association (USTA) a week ago and promptly injured my totally-out-of-shape self playing against middle-aged soccer Moms. 15 minutes into my match, I got the worst Charlie Horse of my life and started hobbling around the court like Tim Conway doing his 100-year-old man walk. By the end of the day, I was so sore that I didn't think I'd make it the next night to my most eagerly awaited sporting event of the year - Pam Shriver's 20th Anniversary Mercantile Tennis Challenge at the 1st Mariner Arena, featuring the Northrup Grumman Tennis Legends doubles match with four former World No. 1 and Tennis Hall of Fame players: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Jim Courier, and Martina Hingis.

I made it, but alas, couldn't find anyone to go with me except my nagging ex-girlfriend. You would have thought she was doing me a favor getting her in for free on an all-access Press Pass to an event whose courtside tix were going for $100. I mean, how hard is it to sell this match to somebody? I repeat: John McEnroe, Martina Navratilova, Jim Courier, Martina Hingis. LEGENDS! Four former No. 1 players. The two greatest lefthanders, for my money, in the history of the game. The greatest volleyer in the history of the game in Johnny Mac (though Federerer is still developing). The greatest female player of all time in Martina the Elder. One of the all-time cutest in Martina the Younger (does she ever stop smiling?)

Let's review the numbers. Between them, these four players have had:
  • a combined 1,294 weeks ranked No. 1 in the world
  • 601 career titles
  • 93 Grand Slams titles
  • 31 Wimbleton titles
  • 25 U.S. Open titles
  • 16 French Open titles
  • 21 Australian Open titles

Yet only 7,000-plus fans showed up Monday night, November 14, at the Arena. Pam Shriver had just had a baby who was still in the hospital back in L.A., yet even she flew back to be on hand at the event she has never missed since its founding in 1985. And it was worth it. The doubles match pairing the legendary lefties, McEnroe and Navratilova, was intense - they won in a tie-breaker!(old-timers are very competitive!). It was also a clinic in textbook volleying - just amazing touch at the net by all parties concerned. Martina the Younger (I never realized how cute this 25-year-old retiree is - she's really rather charming and still could probably beat most of the women tennis pros today) beat Martina the Elder (who just turned 49). And Jim Courier - still in great shape at 35 and a fun, entertaining, good-hearted player (and one of the best tennis commentators ever, along with Patrick McEnroe) - beat the 46-year-old McEnroe in a VERY competitive match, 8-6. Courier is funny. When a fan yelled "C'mon Johnny Mac!", Courier retorted, "Thanks Mom!" Alas, more people showed up to see Maria Sharapova play Lindsey Davenport the year before - sure, Maria is cute and popular and has that one Wimbleton title and Lindsey has a few, but are they LEGENDS? Have they stood the test of time?

Mad About the Wrong Boy(s)
The best audience ever at Pam's Tennis Challenge was about 10,000 for the 2001 Andre Agassi-Andy Roddick match but, while I can understand the appeal of this match to tennis dilettantes, let's get real. Roddick has one Gram Slam title and after his performance at the most recent U.S. Open, losing in the first round (much to the embarrassment of pegged-their-whole-ad-campaign-on-Andy sponsor American Express), is hardly on the road to becoming a legend (big serves and dating Mandy Moore are not locks for getting in the Tennis Hall of Fame). And I still remember Agassi before he reinvented himself as Humble Spokesperson for The Game, when he was the brash, out-of-shape brat who, when down in matches "tanked' and gave up, showed up opponents in Davis Cup matches (can anyone forget when he caught his Argentinian opponent's serve to patronizingly "give him" a token game?), blew off Wimbleton and the U.S. Open for years, and was guilty of tennis fashion crimes (especially off-court with his unforgiveable Las Vegas casual wear ensembles - sorry, Rhinestone-on-Denim cannot be forgiven - ever! And I won't even comment on his rock star earings, an obvious visual distraction from his balding pate). It's good that Andre is Mr. Nice Guy now, because his early years were a waste. He had all the sponsorships, but he never won a major title; all the guys in his Young American Hopefuls class - Jim Courier, Michael Chang, Pete Sampras - won Grand Slams before him. He wasn't sure if he wanted to be a rock star or a tennis star. Fortunately, he commited himself to the latter and the results speak for themselves - better late than never.

But I hard is it to sell this event?

And how ungrateful a wench can my grouchy ex be? She complained about the parking, so I ended up splitting it with her. She wanted to stand courtside the whole match when I plead with her to sit down, due to my still sore Charley Horse from the day before. She complained about the seats we eventually sat in and had sit closer. She complained about the food in the V.I.P. Lounge where - for free! - there was unlimited beef, tomato cappelini, salad, bread, deserts ("I don't eat sweets" she whined as I asked her if she cared for any of the delectable brownies and cookies on hand), not to mention unlimited beer, wine, and Bailey's coffee! She complained that her favorite, Agassi (natch!) wasn't there (I just groaned!) Then she made me leave early when I had scored autographs from McEnroe, Navratilova, and Hingus and only needed one more from Jim Courier.

All it cost her was $10 for parking. For all of the above.

And she didn't even thank me.

If anyone is out there listening, contact me if you wanna go next year. The company's got to be better! And you don't even have to put out! Just don't nag, that's all I ask! And let me sit down if I have another Charlie Horse!

Parting Shot:
Oh, almost forgot...During a pre-game teaser for Comcast SportsNet, former pro-turned-broadcaster Luke Jensen said, "Stay tuned, it's happening here tonight - what could be better than to be here in Boston, home of great crabcakes and great tennis!" The producer yelled at him, "We're in Baltimore, Luke! Do it over!"

Parting Shot, Deux:
Subsequent to this Tennis Legends match, two of the legends were back in the news again. In the year-end Shanghai Masters Cup final between World No. 1 Roger Federer and his arch-nemesis David Nalbandian, Federer had a shot at tying John McEnroe's all-time best 1984 season record of 82-3. Federer had missed 6 weeks with an ankle injury, giving him only a chance to tie - and to extend his all-time best finals record of 23-0. Up two sets, Federer lost in five sets to Nalbandian (now 6-4 lifetime against Federer), to finish 81-4 and end up 23-1 in finals. In failure there is humility, in this case a testament to how great Johnny Mac's 1984 season truly was (one of those losses was to Ivan Lendl at the French Open when Mac was up two sets to none; the loss haunted McEnroe and he never won another Grand Slam). Mitigating Factors for Federer: Of his 4 losses, one was in the semi-finals to eventual 2005 French Open champion Rafael Nadal, one was to Nalbandian in a 5th set tie-breaker (with Roger serving for the match at 6-5 after rallying from 0-4), and Roger had match point in the other two losses (one being his 5th set tie-break loss to Marat Safat in the 2005 Australian Open semifinal)!

And today, November 30, I just read that the still-in-her-prime Martina Hingis has decided to return to the women's professional tour she left because of ankle injuries in 2002. Martina, who has been staying fit by playing regularly in the Team Tennis league, tried an unsuccessful comeback once before in 2004, but it was too soon after her ankle surgery. We may get to see her as soon as January in the 2006 Australian Open (she was extended a wild card invitation).


Blogger Scott "Unpainted" Huffines said...

I just scanned thru TWO HOURS AND THIRTY MINUTES of the most boring sport ever to see if I could find you in the stands and no dice. I can understand the allure of teen hotties with their ass cheeks hanging out batting those rackets, but Martina just scares me, she really is your body double!

6:15 PM  
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3:59 AM  

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